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  • September 2015:

from July 18 the Greek banking system has been under the status of ‘capital controls’. Practically that means that an account holder has limited access to her/his deposits and can withdraw up to a certain amount of money, i.e. 420 Euros per week. However, since 25/9/2015 the Orthodox Church has been exempted from this general norm (in Greek). Particularly, each Bishopric can withdraw up to 10.000 Euros, while the Archbishopric of Athens up to 20.000.
This exemption was presented as a measure for facilitating the extensive humanitarian aid provided by the Church, e.g. soup-kitchens. On the other hand, since e-banking transfers are exempted from the capital controls framework, and thus the Church’s relevant transactions could be delivered without restrictions, the reasoning behind this exception seems to be more an excuse for the preferential treatment rather than a necessary and well-grounded decision for the social benefit.

  • June 2015:

the Government published a draft bill (in Greek) introducing a system of registered partnership for same-sex couples, almost two years after the decision of the European Court of Human Rights, which condemned Greece for discriminatory treatment. The Orthodox Church of Greece reacted officially after the publication of the draft bill, though not very dynamically. A possible reason might be that the bill makes no reference whatsoever to the right of adoption by same-sex couples.

  • June 2015:

the Orthodox Church of Greece, contrary to the position of the coalition Government, took a clear stance in favour of the YES vote in the Greek bailout referendum.

  • May-June 2015:

some 600.000 visitors worshipped the relics of Saint Varvara during their exposition (10 May-1 June 2015). A State arrival ceremony (i.e. Head of foreign States official welcome) was organized in Athens airport, causing the reaction of some cabinet members, labelling the exposition as ‘relic’s trade’. On the other hand, this statement was viewed by the archbishop’s port-parole as a sign of anti-clericalism aiming at violating the right of religious freedom.

  • April 2015:

the Ministry for the Productive Reconstruction, Environment and Energy issued a legal amendment for removing the obstacles, i.e. modification of the contour plan, which blocked the State funded erection of the Mosque in Athens. It should be noted that the Orthodox Church of Greece has many times declared its scepticism towards the construction.

  • January 2015:

the process of the exemption of pupils from religious class came to the fore once again. Specifically, encyclical 12773/Δ2-23/01/2015 (in Greek), issued in January 2015 by the previous centre-right Government, provides that non-Orthodox Christians pupils in primary and secondary education may be exempted from religion course, on the condition that the parents sign the relevant consent form. The encyclical also stipulates that the headmasters shall have the responsibility to control the validity of the evidence presented to substantiate the application for exemption. Various voices were raised against the implementation of the encyclical on the grounds that it makes the exemption procedure more difficult by defining stricter criteria and technical impediments. It was even suggested that its practical application might lead to the violation of the religious freedom value frame, because the parents are more or less requested to prove to the head of the school that they are not Orthodox Christians in order to have their child exempted. This has a two-fold effect. First, a third person, i.e. the school’s head, acquires the power to intervene in an absolutely personal matter. Second, the parents’ right not to reveal their personal religious or non-religious affiliation is violated.
Within this context, the new Deputy Minister of Education and Cults, Mrs Sia Anagnostopoulou, stated that the current procedure should be abolished on the grounds of religious freedom. Consequently, the sole criterion for the exemption should be a parental statement, without any indication of the reasons for their decision. This statement, however, triggered the reaction of the Archbishop of the Orthodox Church of Greece Hieronymus, who spoke haughtily about the Deputy Minister. In particular, he stressed that Anagnostopoulou’s statement does not express the Government’s policy, but that of ‘some lady who has certain ideas in mind’. For him, the Constitution, which defines that primary and secondary education should have a ‘Christian’ character, cannot be disputed on this point and ‘the Greeks should become serious and not listen to nonsense’.
The subsequent meeting between the Minister of Education and Cults, Mr Nicos Philis, and the Archbishop made clear that the Government is not actually willing to change the current legal framework. It seems that the coalition Government, despite the pro-secular discourse of the Syriza party, is reluctant to put this issue, or any other controversial questions of religious interest, on the table.

D 30 September 2015    AKonstantinos Papastathis

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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